The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

Posted October 26, 2017 by Amber in Reviews / 4 Comments

The Big Lie

The Big Lie

by Julie Mayhew

Publisher: Candlewick Press on November 14, 2017
Genre: Alternate History, Historical Fiction, LGBTQIAP+
Target Age Group: Young Adult
Rating: ★★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

In a gripping novel set in present-day England under a Nazi regime, a sheltered teen questions what it means to be "good" -- and how far she's willing to go to break the rules.

Nazi England, 2014. Jessika Keller is a good girl -- a champion ice skater, model student of the Bund Deutscher Madel, and dutiful daughter of the Greater German Reich. Her best friend, Clementine, is not so submissive. Passionately different, Clem is outspoken, dangerous, and radical. And the regime has noticed. Jess cannot keep both her perfect life and her dearest friend, her first love. But which can she live without?

Haunting, intricate, and unforgettable, The Big Lie unflinchingly interrogates perceptions of revolution, feminism, sexuality, and protest. Back matter includes historical notes from the author discussing her reasons for writing an "alt-history" story and the power of speculative fiction.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from LibraryThing Early Reviewers and Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Jessika has been brainwashed since childhood.

Her father holds an important position with the Reicht, and so Jessika must always be on her best behavior.  She is the top of her class, a gifted skater, and she is the Favorite Daughter of the Reicht.

Until Clementine.

Clementine Amelia Hart changes everything Jessika has been told is truth.  She allows her to see through the shroud that has been tucked over the people of Britain since the German Reicht overtook them.  She shows Jess that the things she has learned growing up are just ways the government keeps her enslaved.

This alternate history is fascinating.

Based on the idea of the German Reicht taking over Western Europe in World War II, we follow the last year of Jessika’s schooling in this world.  We learn about her career path, her work with the BDM (Bund Deutscher Mädel), and how the Reicht deals with sexual and political deviants.  The Reicht has all the best machines.  They are the smartest.  They are proper and intelligent and the rest of the world are fools.  Perhaps someday, the good leader of the Reicht may liberate the misguided Americans, even.

Jessika is thoroughly and completely brainwashed.  It’s an interesting perspective in an alternate history, where the hero or heroine would typically be a rebel.  I really liked this point of view, because it made me uncomfortable.  Jessika accepts the world around her as the only truth she has ever known.  Other characters refer to her as naive, but I found she was a realistic portrayal in her environment.  And, from a literary point of view, refreshing.  It was nice to read about this girl struggling between her father and her best friend, between her country and her beliefs.  The way Jessika finds and loses courage is engaging, but also very real.

I know we all want to believe that presented with a backwards, oppressive situation we would all be brave and fight back.  But, would we really?  Especially if it was all we had ever known?  Something to think about….

This story is told in four section.

The first section is Jessika’s life leading up to the Jay Ackers concert.  Parts two and three are entwined – her time after the concert and in internment.  The last section is very brief and shows her life after her conditioning.  This last part is, I believe, the most interesting because we see the spark has not quite gone out, despite the attempts to snuff it.

I had a little difficulty with the entwinement of parts two and three.  It took me a while to realize which came chronologically first, but that was quickly resolved as I read on – it became painfully clear.

Mayhew discusses topics of love, sexuality, family honor, political responsibilities, women’s rights, human rights, and freedom.  There’s a lot to digest but I think she does a good job of it.

The Big Lie is excellent food for thought.

I thought the characters were very well and interestingly written.  I enjoyed (cringed, but you were supposed to) the treatment of homosexuality within the boundaries of the novel, and the impression of German Reicht ideals in the modern world.  The contrast between the Americans and the Germans was brilliant, both shocking and casual depending on perspective.  Overall I would have to say that I’m so pleased to have received this ARC.  I think it was incredibly well done and uncomfortable, as any alternate history should be.  This will be one I’ll keep on my shelf.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★ 1/2
Plot: ★★★★★
Characters: ★★★★
Writing: ★★★★
Pacing: ★★★
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★★★


The Big Lie Stays on the Shelf

You know, while this book wasn’t perfect, it was really interesting.  I think this is one I’d be curious to read again and see if I have a different experience – either because I pick up more of it, or if there’s some je ne said quoi I didn’t quite catch on the first go around.  I was interested enough as I was reading it to be willing to read it one more time.  At least.


Have you read any alternate histories?

Have you ever thought about what you would do in an oppressive regime?

How do you feel about the cover?

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4 responses to “The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

  1. Ali

    Ooooh I love alternate history novels!! This one sounds really good! The only other I’ve read is the Wolf by Wolf duology, and have been meaning to find more. Thanks for the great review.

    • Amber

      I really liked it, I thought it was really unique! I’ve been watching Man in the High Castle and it’s really interesting how the same alternate history even can still have different branches.

    • Amber

      They’re actually really hit or miss for me? I think that they all tend to be the same book – bad guys win war, protagonist is rebel, destroys new/wrong society, everyone starts over. I really liked this one because it DIDN’T follow that formula. It was original and interesting and I definitely think it’s worth a read.